The Wolverines (12-10, 2-0) played host to cross-country conference foe Chicago State (2-18, 1-2) Thursday night and avoided a huge upset on an effort that was sparked by top scoring threat Isiah Williams. Despite trailing by three at the half, UVU pulled away late to cash in with a nine-point, 65-56 victory and notch their second conference win.
The victory was the Wolverines’ fifth consecutive and sixth of their last eight. The Cougars of Chicago State may only have had two wins coming into the night, but Wolverines head coach Dick Hunsaker wasn’t surprised by their effort.
“We knew they would come to fight,” Hunsaker said. “They have played an essentially unplayable schedule. Records are totally deceiving. They played a nationally ranked San Diego State team in San Diego and led by seven in the second half.”
It appeared that the only Wolverine that came to play offensively in the first half was Holton Hunsaker.
“Holton was sensational,” head coach Dick Hunsaker said. “Sometimes you can sense he has really zeroed in and he carried us through that first half and really kept us in the game.”
Hunsaker was lights out, shooting 4-for-4 from the field, three of which were from beyond the arc and knocked down a perfect 5-5 from the free-throw line to tally 16 points to go along with two assists and two steals. Outside of Hunsaker’s first-half heroics, the rest of the team combined to score just 15 points.
The second half would belong to Williams and Geddes Robinson with some help from center Ben Aird. Robinson finished with another double-double, matching his season average with 10 points, but dominated the boards, pulling down 16, six more than his season average.
After a silent first half Aird came to life as he recorded eight points and 10 rebounds. Williams chipped in 11 of his 13 points in the second session, but it was the timing that set the stage for the comeback.
Trailing by three points five minutes into the second half, Williams scored an easy bucket on an inbounds pass right under the hoop and drew the foul. The free-throw tied the game at 38-38, and after a Cougars turnover Williams knocked down a jumper to give UVU a two point advantage.
Aird connected on back-to-back buckets followed up by a fast break assist from Williams to Keith Thompson, who went high above the rim and slammed home an emphatic dunk to give the Wolverines a 48-41 lead.
“Even one shot can spark your team,” Robinson said. “It get’s the crowd into it, and a steal and a dunk can ignite everybody.”
The Williams three-point play ignited that spark and turned a three-point deficit into a seven point lead five minutes later, marking a ten point swing. Chicago State attempted to mount a comeback and managed to crawl back to within three with a minute and a half remaining.
Despite shooting a shade under 62 percent from the line for the game, the Wolverines were able to convert from the charity stripe late, two by Thompson and another two by Hunsaker to go 4-for-4 to close out the game. Those free-throws, combined with a breakaway lay-up by Williams, slammed the door shut to give UVU the win.
Coach Hunsaker knows that contrary to popular opinion, this isn’t the last test for the Wolverines this year.
“Everyone is going to give us their best,” Hunsaker said. “The battle cry in the Great West is come conference play, it’s a new season.”
– by Jonathan Boldt